Gabby Petito’s parents accused the mother and father of presumed killer Brian Laundrie of hindering the search for their murdered daughter, according to a lawsuit they filed on Thursday.
The civil action by Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt was taken in Sarasota County, Florida, where Christopher and Roberta Laundrie live, but do not name a specific dollar amount for potential damages — just that it would exceed $30,000.
Petito’s body was found on Sept. 19 in Wyoming and the cause of her death was later ruled a homicide as she died by “manual strangulation“ at least three weeks earlier, a coroner said.
On Sept. 14, Laundrie’s parents issued a statement, supporting the search for Petito, according to the lawsuit. That statement was made “with full knowledge that Gabrielle Petito had been murdered by their son,” the civil complaint said.
“Despite the fact that Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt implored Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie to tell them if their daughter was alive, and if she was not, where her remains were located, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie refused to respond to either Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, or law enforcement,” plaintiff’s lawyer Patrick Reilly wrote.
The defendants “knew of the mental suffering and anguish” the plaintiffs were experiencing while their daughter was missing but refused to disclose information about her whereabouts, and in doing so “acted with malice or great indifference,” the lawsuit said.
“It is believed … that on or about August 28, 2021, Brian Laundrie advised his parents, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie, that he had murdered Gabrielle Petito,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit also alleges that Laundrie’s parents were keeping his whereabouts secret during the search for Petito, and that they “were making arrangements for him to leave the country.”
Brian Laundrie’s body was found in Florida, a month after Petito had been discovered. Laundrie, who died a self-inflicted gunshot, left notes saying he was responsible for Petito’s death, officials have said.
Christopher and Roberta Laundrie’s lawyer, Steve Bertolino, denied the allegations in the lawsuit on Friday.
“As I have maintained over the last several months, the Laundries have not publicly commented at my direction which is their right under the law,” Bertolino said in a statement responding to the suit.
“Assuming everything the Petitos allege in their lawsuit is true, which we deny, this lawsuit does not change the fact that the Laundries had no obligation to speak to law enforcement or any third-party including the Petito family. This fundamental legal principle renders the Petito’s claims to be baseless under the law. “
The search for Gabby Petito, who had gone missing on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, filled newspaper pages and cable TV newscasts for weeks this past summer.
Breathless coverage of Petito’s case frustrated loved ones of other missing Americans, often people of color, who seemed to get less attention from the public.
David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.